The turn of the year means a chance to look forward to some excellent tastings coming up, but also a chance to look back at some great wines tasted over the previous twelve months. Here are ten of the many reds which caught my attention in 2016:
10. Cicero Alto Reben AOC Graubünden Pinot Noir 2012
In Europe the country most well known for Pinot Noir is of course France, with examples from Burgundy still being among the most expensive wines in the world. After that it’s probably Germany for Spätburgunder and then perhaps Italy for Pinot Nero, but don’t forget Switzerland – hillside vineyards can be perfect for Pinot, and although Swiss wines are never cheap they can offer good value for money. See here for the full review.
9. Mas St Louis Châteauneuf du Pape 2012
CNDP can often be a blockbuster wine with loads of mouthfeel and 15.0% or more alcohol. Wines which don’t measure up to this are often inferior lightweight versions not worthy of the appellation or the price tag – better to go for a Gigondas or Vacqueras instead. But just occasionally you might come across a wine which is not typical of the area but transcends it – and this is the one. A high proportion of Grenache and sandy soil are apparently the reason for its lightness – but you will have to try it yourself.
8. Paul Osicka Heathcote Shiraz 2004
My favourite hotel in Ireland is The Twelve in Barna near Galway City, and luckily it’s also my wife’s favourite. The rooms, the service and the food are all excellent – and so is the wine! When last there some months ago for a weekend (kid-free) break I spied this mature Heathcote Shiraz on the wine list and had to give it a try with the côte de boeuf for two (and although I was tempted to have both to myself I did of course share them with my wife). I will definitely look out for this wine again!
7. Atalon Napa Merlot 2004
Quality Californian Merlot isn’t an oxymoron, though there is plenty mediocre Merlot made in the Central Valley. When it’s good, it can be great, and this nicely mature 2004 is probably the best Merlot I’ve ever tasted from California, and definitely the best I’ve tasted from any region this year. See here for the full review.
6. Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013
“A wine that asks more questions than it answers” is a fair summary of this unusual Douro red – and perhaps that’s why it’s so interesting. It’s not a wine for everyone, with higher than average acidity and body more akin to Burgundy than the Douro, but it brings the funk! See here for the full review.
5. Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014
Time and time again, the 20 Barrels Pinot has impressed me with its silky smooth berrytastic goodness. It’s possibly the closest thing to a red wine for all men (and women) – without being a lowest common denominator compromise. Most notably it shone in an all-star Pinot Noir tasting arranged by importers Findlaters, beating off competition from Burgundy, California, Marlborough and elsewhere – in fact the only real competition was the big brother Cono Sur Ocio, though that is around twice the price.
4. Wolf Blass Black Label 1998
Wolfgang Blass is something of a legend in Australian wine, and while his eponymous wines range down to everyday drinking level, his multi-award winning Black Label has been one of the top Aussie wines since its creation in 1973 – it won the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for an amazing three consecutive years with the 73 – 74 – 75 vintages, and then an unprecedented fourth time with this 1998 release. Tasting the 1998 was a real privilege!
3. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2011
I’ve had some nice Barolos over the years but, to be honest, the tannin and acidity have often put me off – not to mention the price. Many need a good decade to even start being drinkable, and, while I’m not advocating fruit bombs, Barolo can be somewhat lacking on the primary flavour side. But, as Erasure said, it doesn’t have to be like that – this is a wonderful, complex, accessible Barolo. See here for the full review.
2. Penfolds Grange 2010
If Spinal Tap’s amps went up to 11, then wine critics should surely have awarded this wine 102 points, as it betters even the excellent 100-pointer from 2008. It’s still tightly wound compared to the lighter 2011 and more easy-going 2009, but it will be a legendary vintage when it reaches its peak in another decade or two.
1. Cascina Garitina Nizza 900
A wine to show that Barbera can make excellent wines, not just something to sup waiting for Barolos and Barbarescos to mature. Made around the town of Nizza Montferrato in Piedmont, Nizza wine was a subregion of Barbera d’Asti until gaining full DOCG status in 2014. Gianluca Morino of Cascina Garitina is an innovative producer who makes some very good Barbera d’Asti but an amazing Nizza – a truly excellent wine with more depth and poise than I’ve witnessed in any other Barbera.